A boyfriend and girlfriend charged with using a 16-year-old girl for sex trafficking appeared in court for the first time Friday, kissing and hugging each other while in custody and pleading for their bail to be reduced.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office on Friday filed one count each of human trafficking and possession of pornographic material of a minor against Stephen L. Montgomery, 23, and Amanda C. Baker, 20. Steve Slocum, supervising deputy district attorney, confirmed filing the charges Friday morning in Merced Superior Court.
Slocum told the Merced Sun-Star that the child pornography charge stems from the defendants allegedly posting images of the girl online for sexual purposes.
Neither defendant entered a plea Friday.
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Baker and Montgomery are in custody at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility. They appeared in court via video monitor from the jail. Seated together before the monitor, Baker kissed Montgomery on the cheek and neck several times, and whispered in his ear before loudly announcing that she believes he is innocent in the case.
“I just want to say, Stephen Montgomery had nothing to do with this,” she said. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Baker then asked for the judge to “please, please, please lower our bail.” Retired Judge Frank Dougherty advised her not to discuss her case before speaking with an attorney. He ordered bail for both defendants reduced from $500,000 each to $50,000 apiece.
The judge appointed the Merced County Public Defender’s Office to represent Montgomery, and Baker was assigned a contract public defender. Both defendants were ordered to return to court Thursday for arraignment.
Baker and Montgomery, whom police have described as having a dating relationship, were arrested Tuesday by the Merced Police Department, following a lengthy investigation that included an undercover sting and consultation with the FBI.
Officers were alerted to the case when the victim’s family contacted police, reporting her as a habitual runaway, police said this week.
Police said the pair coerced the 16-year-old victim into prostitution for at least several months in Merced and other parts of the state. They operated their alleged black market sex business, at least in part, from a motel on East Childs Avenue. They allegedly gave the girl drugs and money, and advertised her as a prostitute online.
Officers initially arrested Montgomery and Baker in January and turned the victim over to Child Protective Services. However, when officers searched the pair’s East 12th Street home Tuesday, they found the teenager hiding in a bedroom. She was again placed in the care of CPS, police said.
During an undercover operation in January, the victim met with an officer posing as a sex-trade customer. She agreed to perform sex acts for one hour for $200. Montgomery allegedly rented the motel room and Baker brought the girl to the meeting, police said.
Police said Baker used the money they got from trafficking the victim to pay for household goods and, at least once, to bail Montgomery out of jail.
Both defendants were still in custody Friday evening.
Merced police ask anyone with information regarding the suspects to call (209) 385-6847. Tips are confidential and callers can remain anonymous.
Sun-Star staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.